Warm Indoor Temperatures Linked to Obesity

January 30, 2011

(Article first published as Is Your Warm House The Reason You Can’t Lose Weight? on Technorati.)

Lack of Indoor Temerature Variation Shown to Contribute to Weight Gain

Lack of Indoor Temerature Variation Shown to Contribute to Weight Gain

We are all well aware that eating too much and insufficient exercise are important factors that determine our weight and drive the current obesity epidemic. Weight gain and loss is a product of many other lifestyle factors including stress, sleep and even the temperature of your house. A review published in the journal Obesity Reviews examines the link between reduced exposure to the cold and obesity in the UK and US.

We Burn More Calories When Cold

Modern Heating Over the Past 30 Years Linked to Obesity

Modern Heating Over the Past 30 Years Linked to Obesity

It’s not something we think a lot about when we’re sitting in our favorite easy chair in front of a warm fire in our well insulated house during winter. We can easily control our environment with a turn of the thermostat. In fact, the only deterrent to staying warm for most people is fear of the fuel oil or electric bill at the end of the month.

Historically, humans have lived in cold climates where they had to endure bitter cold for extended periods. Our body must burn calories at a much higher level to keep us warm during these times, and the increased metabolism helps to prevent overweight and obesity. This study review attempts to explain that seasonal cold helps to regulate energy balance and can help maintain normal body weight on a population level.

Indoor Temperatures Have Increased Over the Past Several Decades

Colder Temperatures Increase Metabolism and Weight Loss Potential

Colder Temperatures Increase Metabolism and Weight Loss Potential

Widespread access to central heating and air conditioning contribute to a restriction of the temperature variations experienced under natural conditions. Humans have evolved to acclimate to mild thermal stress, as our metabolic rate can easily adjust to differing temperature zones. When we’re cold, our heart rate and blood pressure increase as blood vessels close to the skin constrict in response to reduced temperatures.

The net effect is more calories burned for a longer period of time and this translates into lower body weight. Researchers have found that we experience a much smaller range of temperature variation than we did just 30 years ago. While this may not fully explain the skyrocketing overweight and obesity rates now seen across the US and UK, it does provide an important clue to how our environment can impact our ability to maintain a normal weight.

External Temperature Can Modify Our Fat Structure

Over the past decade, medical researchers have gained a much better understanding about the two distinctly different types of adipose or fat cells that we accumulate. White fat is metabolically active tissue that accumulates most commonly around the hips and mid-section of the body. Excess amounts of white fat are associated with inflammation, metabolic disease, heart disease and cancer.

Brown fat is a thermally active type of tissue that actually burns calories for energy and is associated with a higher metabolic rate and lower weight range. Researchers from the Obesity Reviews study found that when people spend more time in a climate controlled environment they produce less brown fat and metabolize fewer calories at rest. This was found to result in a tendency to gain weight, especially when coupled with a sedentary lifestyle.

The researchers concluded “Research into the environmental drivers behind obesity, rather then the genetic ones, has tended to focus on diet and exercise — which are undoubtedly the major contributors. However, it is possible that other environmental factors, such as winter indoor temperatures, may also have a contributing role. This research therefore raises the possibility for new public health strategies to address the obesity epidemic.” The bottom line is to carefully control calories and remain physically active. Be mindful that external environmental factors also contribute to your ability to successfully lose weight.



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  2. […] history, humans have lived in the cold and endured freezing climates for extended periods of time. According to the website Optimal Health Resource, your heart rate and blood pressure amplify when exposed to low temperatures. In response to […]

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